Wake County’s 38 multi-track year-round schools open a new school year Tuesday amid uncertainty about how many teacher assistants they will be able to keep.
School districts are waiting to see if North Carolina lawmakers will cease funding as many as 8,500 teacher assistant positions during the next two years. Wake school officials say principals at multi-track schools – which open seven weeks before most schools – weren’t put under a hiring freeze, but noted that the situation could change depending on the final state budget.
“As a former year-round principal, thank goodness we were able to tell them to hire staff as normal,” said school board Vice Chairman Tom Benton. “Hopefully there will be enough wiggle room for us to keep the positions on a permanent basis this year.”
The House budget plan would maintain current funding levels for teacher assistants. But the Senate’s budget would cut teacher assistants and shift the money to pay for teachers to reduce class sizes in the lower grades.
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Senate Republicans have, over the years, pushed for reductions in teacher assistants and lower early-grade class sizes on the theory that their approach will improve student performance.
The Senate plan would cut the equivalent of 5,300 teacher assistant salaries this year and an additional 3,200 next year.
In Wake County, school officials say the Senate budget could cost 500 positions this year, or more than 20 percent of the district’s 2,355 teacher assistants. School board members say they might have to tap into the record $44.6 million increase in funding from the Wake County Board of Commissioners to help absorb state cuts.
“Thank goodness we’re in a wealthier county that can absorb some of this,” Benton said.
Last week, teacher assistants rallied at the Legislative Building in Raleigh to fight for their jobs.
“It seems like every single year, we’re here, fighting for our jobs,” said Michelle Bailey, an Onslow County teacher assistant.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican, said the lead time to hire for the start of the school year depends on when legislators have a budget deal. The General Assembly approved a temporary state budget last week to keep the state running until Aug. 14.
“It could be two months, it could be two weeks,” he said.
School leaders in Wake and other districts have questioned finding the space to handle the lower class sizes proposed by the Senate. More teachers and lower class sizes may require some “creative scheduling” by districts, or “creative use of space,” Tillman said. “Most of them can handle it.”